Too Smart for My Own Good

Not that anyone would ever accuse me of being too smart, but I have been doing some reflecting on my recent writing struggles. I participated in my fourth NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. Love challenging myself this way and I’ve succeeded in the past so I went into it with great expectations. But getting the words on the pages this time around was like slogging through an alligator infested swamp.

I had a project in mind. Had been mapping it out and mentally filming it for a couple of months. I couldn’t wait for November 1st to stike on the clock. The goal to complete the challenge is 1,667 words pre-day. Day one saw not quite a thousand, and each day that followed saw few and fewer. The weekends I couldn’t seem to catch up. What was the matter with me? Honestly, the creation part is the most fun. I love starting a project. Hate ending one. So what was going on?

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As it turned out, in stalling for the beginning of NaNo, I filled my spare time by studying some craft. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but it ended up getting me stuck.

James Scott Bell advised in his book Elements of Writing – Conflict and Suspense, that every scene needs an element of internal or external conflict. There also needs to be questions and suspense built in.

Did that have conflict? Delete, try again. Maybe more suspense here? Or maybe here? Delete. How many words have I written today?

Jerry Jenkins also says that in editing you need to cut out the obvious. “He crossed his arms over his chest.” Where else does one cross their arms? Jerry asks. Write seven words delete three. Going nowhere fast. “She stomped her foot on the floor.” As opposed to stomping on the ceiling? Delete three more.

Jerry also says to not bore the reader with “On-the-Nose writing.” A writer’s propensity is to explain every action. “She rose early in the morning, yawned, stretched and slid her feet out of the warm covers. The icy floor made her toes tingle as she pulled her jeans from the top dresser drawer and her favorite green silk blouse from a hanger. The satiny fabric caressed her skin as she slid in her right arm then her left and buttoned each tiny button.” Yawn. “The cold floor bit at her toes as she dressed in her favorite silk blouse.” Tighter, better, and oh yeah, minus forty-nine words. Yikes, no wonder I was struggling to reach my goal each day.

I kept trying to remind myself of Jodi Picoult’s wise words. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” My problem was I wasn’t waiting to edit.

For whatever reason starting NaNo this year I just couldn’t turn off the inner editor and just write the story that had been burning inside me for months. What had been a joy became a drudgery. Fun was now work.

So did I complete NaNo successfully again this year? You better believe it. A day early even. About half way through I started consciously refusing to edit any words until it was finished. It wasn’t easy, but the longer I forbid myself to dwell on the correctness, the style, the have-to’s and should-do’s, the easier the words came. Am I going to go back now and fix everything according to the expert’s advice? New Years Resolution #1: edit all my ‘bad’ writing done in 2016. Happy writing and then happy editing everyone.

About Michelle Janene (Murray) 6 Articles
Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.


  1. Michelle,

    This post is just what I needed to hear! You’re looking at the editor-in-chief who can spend five hours editing one chapter or a 400 word blog. Uhhhh! Did I need to hyphenate 400-word blog?
    See what I mean? I hear you loud and clear about writing and then returning to edit, but am I doing this? No, in fact, I may spend an hour editing this comment unless I hit send NOW!

  2. I love this article so much, Michelle.

    My writing process and productivity suffered from never-ending revisions, until Jerry Jenkins taught me to accept my first draft would include bad writing.

    I keep my writing process heavy in prayer. Since I’m having an ongoing conversation with God, it’s easier to write all the way through to the end.

    I take that handwritten copy and type it up as fast as possible, then celebrate. I want to enjoy the victory before I put on my chopinator hat.

    Once I learned how rewarding it is to finish well, I had completed drafts to edit and was able to place more small offerings into God’s mighty hands, to use as He saw fit.

    Praise the Lord!

    My biggest obstacles were my fears and insecurities. I didn’t feel smart, so I worked hard to find perfect words and failed.

    Once God broke my shackles of pride, I embraced the freedom of not having to be perfect.

    I realized that even after my edits, and having my awesome writing and prayer partner slash through my draft, there would be room for improvement.

    But God could, and does, use the imperfect words I’ve polished to the best of my ability and placed into His hands.

    Not because my words are perfect, but because He is perfect.


    Thanks for always being a wonderful encouragement. I am inspired by your productivity, Sister.

    I pray we continue to write with Spirit-empowered wisdom, courage, diligence, confidence, obedience, and joy.

    I pray we stomp out every urge to edit-as-we-go, knowing God can only use our words if they’re written and placed into His hands.

    It’s a privilege to serve with you, Sister.

  3. I am not sure who said it first, but it has been said, “Put first things first in order to be successful.” Writing is a task that must, of necessity be first. Editing is a task that can be done at almost any time. If possible, it should be done by someone with that particular skill. Assuming using an editor is non an option, we should still write as though we are going to use one anyway. Then when the piece is done, submit it to ourselves as editor. Being very deliberate in this process can work wonders for the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Assuming an “alter ego” is not a bad thing as long as you know what is happening. Another example is for us as writers to give up the thought, “Will anyone like what I am writing?” and instead think, “My readers are going to love this.” Hubris? No. Mindset that is appropriate to the task at hand.

  4. Great post, Michelle. I, too, edit as I go along, but I tend to write at a much more leisurely pace with no word objectives in mind and no deadline looming. (Lazy me would NEVER consider NaNoWriMo or anything like it. I enjoyed hearing your tale and congratulate you for accomplishing your goal. Maybe I’m not a specific goal setter with my writing…thus it is just all fun and no work at all.

  5. I appreciate your struggle with the inner editor. Like you, I made goal this NaNoWriMo. My outline freed me most days to just write. But, more often than not, the little bully drives me in circles as I desperately write, trying to remember and apply the advice of a myriad of editors.

    I embrace this new vision: all my writing craft advisors cheering me on from the finish line. My little bully critic sitting in the empty bleachers, slumped shouldered. He’s sucking up straight lemon juice through a straw. Face puckered, he’s scanning the sidelines for his next victim. Let’s put him out of business!

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